Russia has crafted new legislation that will give it a legal justification to defy verdicts by international courts—like, say, a recent attempt by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to make Russia pay out $2 billion to shareholders of defunct oil firm Yukos. However, Legal experts also said the ruling could provide Russia with a pretext not to implement a decision by the court.
The new law, signed on Tuesday (Dec. 16) by president Vladimir Putin, enables Russia’s constitutional court to decide whether to adhere to a verdict of an international court. The law also enables the Russian court to overturn decisions of the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights if it deems them unconstitutional.
The law makes it clear that Russia’s constitution takes precedence over international law. However, critics insist that it’s patently illegal, starting with its premise that the Russian Constitution takes precedence over international law—when the Russian Constitution itself, in Article 15.4, explicitly states the opposite. Putin’s measure also violates Article 46 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which stipulates that member states “undertake to abide by the final judgment of the Court in any case to which they are parties.” Thus, any ECHR decision ruled “non-executable” under this measure would still be legally binding on the Russian Federation, and would have to be implemented by any future post-Putin government.
There’s another issue, as Human Rights Watch (HRW) points out. Russia is party to the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, which bans countries from invoking their domestic laws to skirt international court rulings.
The Russian court ruled its Constitution trumps the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights.
“Russia’s participation in the international agreement does not signify rejection of state sovereignty,” said the ruling by head of the constitutional court, Valery Zorkin.
“The Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and the ECHR’s legal positions based on it cannot annul the precedence of the Constitution.”
Zorkin, recently called for “transforming the legal system in the direction of military harshness”—the right to ignore rulings by the European Court of Human Rights by declaring them “non-executable.”
If any decision of Europe’s top human rights court is found to be in violation of Russian law, Moscow should not follow that ruling “to the letter,” Zorkin said.
All countries joining the Council of Europe (CoE) are obliged to comply with definitive rulings from the EHCR, said Thornbjørn Jagland, CoE’s Secretary-General. “Russia’s Constitutional Court will need to ensure their compliance with the Convention (on Human Rights) when it has to implement new provisions. The CoE can only make a judgement on Russia’s implementation of its commitments as and when it is presented with a specific case. Apparently, a number of CoE Member States have looked at the compatibility of Strasbourg Court rulings with their own State constitutions. So far, countries have always managed to find solutions that are consistent with the provisions of the Convention. This too should be possible in Russia,” he said.
At a meeting with Vladimir Putin, Valery Zorkin, stated that the Court wanted to resolve potential difficulties with the EHCR through dialogue. “We’re not living in a vacuum cut off from everyone else. We work extremely closely with our colleagues abroad. The Court is a member of a world body of constitutional courts which have been operating for several years, as well as collaborating with the European Association of Constitutional Courts and its Asian equivalent. In Europe, the institution we cooperate with most is the Strasbourg Court”, he added.